Edward II, King of England

Edward II, a fictional portrait from Cassell’s History of England, published circa 1902

For an explanation of our line of descent from Edward II, refer to Royal Ancestors.

Edward II was born 25 Apr 1284 and died 21 Sep 1327 (traditionally; or 11 Oct 1327 by some accounts), also called Edward of Caernarfon, was King of England from 1307 until he was deposed by his wife Isabella in January 1327.  He was the first English prince to hold the title Prince of Wales, which was formalized by the Parliament of Lincoln of 7 Feb 1301.

 

Edward II lacked the royal dignity of his father and failed miserably as king.  He inherited his father’s war with Scotland and displayed his ineptitude as a soldier.  Disgruntled barons, already wary of Edward as Prince of Wales, sought to check his power from the beginning of his reign.  He raised the ire of the nobility by lavishing money and other rewards upon his male favorites.  Such extreme unpopularity would eventually cost Edward his life.

 

Edward I’s dream of a unified British nation quickly disintegrated under his weak son.  Baronial rebellion opened the way for Robert Bruce to reconquer much of Scotland.  In 1314, Bruce defeated English forces at the battle of Bannockburn and ensured Scottish independence until the union of England and Scotland in 1707.  Bruce also incited rebellion in Ireland and reduced English influence to the confines of the Pale.

 

Edward’s preference for surrounding himself with outsiders harkened back to the troubled reign of Henry III.  The most notable was Piers Gaveston, a young Gascon exiled by Edward I for his undue influence on the Prince of Wales and, most likely, the king’s homosexual lover.  The arrogant and licentious Gaveston wielded considerable power after being recalled by Edward.  The magnates, alienated by the relationship, rallied in opposition behind the king’s cousin, Thomas, Earl of Lancaster.  The Parliaments of 1310 and 1311 imposed restrictions on Edward’s power and exiled Gaveston.  The barons revolted in 1312 and Gaveston was murdered – full rebellion was avoided only by Edward’s acceptance of further restrictions.  Although Lancaster shared the responsibilities of governing with Edward, the king came under the influence of yet another despicable favorite, Hugh Dispenser.  In 1322, Edward showed a rare display of resolve and gathered an army to meet Lancaster at the Battle of Boroughbridge in Yorkshire.  Edward prevailed and executed Lancaster.  He and Dispenser ruled the government but again acquired many enemies – 28 knights and barons were executed for rebelling and many exiled.

Kenilworth Castle’s keep from the south

Edward sent his queen, Isabella, to negotiate with her brother, French king Charles IV, regarding affairs in Gascony.  She fell into an open romance with Roger Mortimer, one of Edward’s disaffected barons, and persuaded Edward to send their young son to France.  The rebellious couple invaded England in 1326 and imprisoned Edward.  The government of Isabella and Mortimer was so precarious that they dared not leave the deposed king in the hands of their political enemies. On 3 Apr 1327, Edward II was removed from Kenilworth and entrusted to the custody of two subordinates of Mortimer, then later imprisoned at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire where, it was generally believed, he was murdered by an agent of Isabella and Mortimer on 11 Oct 1327, although Edward’s death is commemorated annually at Berkeley Castle on  21 September.

 

The closest chronicler to the scene in time and distance, Adam Murimuth, stated that it was “popularly rumoured” that he had been suffocated. The Lichfield chronicle, equally reflecting local opinion, stated that he had been strangled.  Most chronicles did not offer a cause of death other than natural causes.  The popular story that the king was assassinated by having a red-hot poker thrust into his anus has no basis in accounts recorded by Edward’s contemporaries.  Thomas de la Moore’s account of Edward’s murder was not written until after 1352 and is uncorroborated by other contemporary sources.  Not until the relevant sections of the longer Brut chronicle were composed by an anti-Mortimer Lancastrian polemicist in the mid-1430s was the story widely circulated.

 

Edward II’s tomb at Gloucester Cathedral

Ian Mortimer has put forward the argument that Edward II was not killed at Berkeley but was still alive at least until 1330.  In his biography of Edward III, he explores the implications of this, using evidence including the Fieschi Letter, concluding Edward II may have died in Italy around 1341.  In her biography of Isabella, Alison Weir also considers the Fieschi Letter narrative – that Edward escaped imprisonment and lived the rest of his life in exile.  Other historians, however, including David Carpenter, have criticized Mortimer’s methodology and disagree with his conclusions.  Nevertheless a public funeral was held in 1327, attended by Isabella, after which Edward’s body was said to be laid in Gloucester Cathedral.  An elaborate tomb was set up by his son which attracted pilgrims from far and wide.

 

Following the public announcement of the king’s death, the rule of Isabella and Mortimer did not last long.  They made peace with the Scots in the Treaty of Northampton, but this move was highly unpopular.  Consequently, when Edward III came of age in 1330, he executed Roger Mortimer on fourteen charges of treason, most significantly the murder of Edward II (thereby removing any public doubt about his father’s survival).  Edward III spared his mother and gave her a generous allowance, but ensured that she retired from public life for several years.  She died at Hertford on 23 Aug 1358.

 

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